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‘Opportunity’ for Syria’s Assad in quake outreach, analysts say

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'Opportunity' for Syria's Assad in quake outreach, analysts say

Syria’s politically isolated President Bashar al-Assad has received calls and aid from Arab leaders since a devastating earthquake Monday, a momentum analysts say he could leverage to bolster regional support.

The 7.8-magnitude pre-dawn quake has killed more than 16,000 people in Turkey and neighbouring Syria, already reeling from over a decade of conflict and years of economic sanctions.

Nicholas Heras of the New Lines Institute of Strategy and Policy said mobilisation to help quake victims offers Assad an opportunity to restore ties with some Arab countries, but “this humanitarian crisis will not exonerate his regime in Western states”.

“The horrible tragedy that has struck Syria and Turkey is a clear opportunity for Bashar al-Assad to try to advance the slow-moving… process of normalising his regime again with the rest of the Arab world,” Heras told AFP.

The Syrian president on Tuesday received a call from his Egyptian counterpart offering support, their first official exchange since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed office in 2014.

While Cairo and Damascus have maintained relations during the 12-year war, the Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 and some other Arab countries have severed ties with it.

The ruler of Bahrain, which re-established diplomatic relations with Syria in 2018, called Assad on Monday, their first official conversation in more than a decade.

The United Arab Emirates — the first Gulf country to normalise ties with the Assad regime after years of boycott — is spearheading regional relief efforts.

Abu Dhabi has already pledged at least $50 million in assistance and sent several aid planes a day since the quake.

Lebanon, which has adopted a policy of dissociation, sent on Wednesday its first high-level official delegation to Damascus since the start of the conflict.

‘Use the moment’

Relief efforts could pave the way for “a clear and open channel for sustained diplomatic engagement”, Heras said.

But Aron Lund of Century International think tank said the messages of support were “routine… after a major natural disaster”.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” the Syria expert told AFP. “Will there be more of these contacts, and will they be sustained beyond the immediate crisis?”

“The crisis may lower the threshold for bilateral contacts” between Damascus and Arab states that have so far been reluctant to normalise ties, he added. “Assad will try to use the moment.”

Saudi Arabia, which severed ties with the Assad regime in 2012 and had backed Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war, has pledged aid to both rebel-held and government-controlled parts of the country.

Saudi aid will go directly to Aleppo’s government-controlled international airport as well as the Damascus-based Syrian Red Crescent, but there was no direct contact with the Assad government, an official at King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre told AFP.

Qatar, accused of funding rebels, has also swiftly pledged assistance despite no formal ties.

The earthquake could particularly strengthen Syria’s ties with rebel-backer Ankara, which have warmed in the months leading up to the quake, Lund said.
“Both countries now share a problem that goes beyond borders and political disagreements.”

Western aid

The Assad government has long branded the bloody conflict as a ploy by Western states, and blames crippling Western sanctions for a spiralling economic crisis.
But that has not stopped Syria’s outreach efforts after the earthquake.

Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Monday his government was ready “to provide all the required facilities” for international organisations to send aid.

And Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s UN envoy, announced it would accept assistance from any country.

The Syrian Red Crescent has called on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help, and an EU official said Syria has even made an official plea to the bloc.

For its part, the United States said Tuesday it was working with partners to provide relief but would stand firm against working with the Damascus government.

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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